As with rising gorge I consumed these books, the question that throbbed and pounded in my head was whether it was still possible to defend my beloved repertoire without recourse to pious tommyrot, double standards, false dichotomies, smug nostalgia, utopian delusions, social snobbery, tautology, hypocrisy, trivialization, pretense, innuendo, reactionary invective, or imperial haberdashery.He goes on to say that:
The only defense classical music needs, and the only one that has any hope of succeeding, is the defense of classical music (in the words of T.W. Adorno, a premier offender) against its devotees.So the theme is, "with friends like these (defenders of classical music), who needs enemies?" The latest example is from Musical Toronto and, like so much else from that fair city, it fair reeks with condescending myopia.
We really have heard this about a zillion times before, haven't we? So who is he talking to? Do readers of Musical Toronto need to be propagandized in this way? This is like a stale emanation from the 60s when the Beatles made the London Symphony Orchestra wear funny hats and false noses when recording the orchestral cacophony in "A Day in the Life" just to make sure everyone was being cool. So let's push back against this progressive idiocy.the concert etiquette at classical music performances can be a stifling experience for newbies attending symphony concerts. Whether it’s the anxiety about when to clap or what to wear, the fact is, none of these things have anything to do with the enjoyment of music.If classical music is ever going move beyond a reputation for stiff upper lips, it’s time to start to look carefully at the conventions that have formed around the concert ritual.
To all those attending classical music concerts for the first time who have no idea what the experience is like, yes, please stifle your usual behavior. This is not a rugby match, nor a rave, nor a booze up at the pub. This is classical music and we would all be ever so grateful if you dressed properly and did not disturb your neighbor's attempt to hear the music by coughing, laughing, clapping whenever it moves you, blowing your nose, taking selfies and texting your friends. Just stifle it, ok? And listen to the music. That's why you came, right? The conventions that have evolved around the classical concert have a very useful function, on the whole: to enable music of some complexity to be heard and enjoyed with as little extraneous disturbance as possible. If you want to get rid of them, the consequences will be that the music will be more difficult to hear and enjoy. Simple. Now let's look at more of the article, which is, of course, in the form of a top ten list:
Sure, and people like to yell at sportscasters on television and sometimes throw things. Lots of innate urges need to be repressed.Clapping between movementsThere has always been an innate urge for the audience to communicate to the musicians on stage. It’s not a one-way street, and sometimes people can’t help themselves. Sorry Mahler, but if you didn’t want people to clap at the end of the first movement of the 8th, you should have made people sit on their hands. If it were I, I’d be clapping at the recapitulation.
The message is that actual musicians do check their tuning from time to time. That's how we know they are actual musicians and not holograms or lip-synching. The temperature gradient between backstage and onstage under the lights will usually alter the pitch of most musical instruments. And musicians do pre-tune, of course.Tuning on stageEverything you do on stage sends a message. So what is the message you send by tuning on stage? There is no reason why an orchestra, soloist, or chamber ensemble can’t pre-tune before coming on stage.
Mysteriously awkward? Who is this guy Michael Vincent and why does it sound like he almost never attends a classical concert? Oh, right, it's all a pose. Conductors walk on and off for various reasons, just like soloists do. If it were more logistically feasible, the whole band would walk on and off between pieces just like chamber ensembles do. But just to clue in Mr. Vincent, one reason conductors walk off at the end of a piece is to come back with the concerto soloist for the next piece. OK?Conductors walking on and off stageThis is a silly tradition and seems mysteriously awkward, especially for anyone new to classical music. Toss it.
There are number of traditional customs involving concert etiquette. People who attend a lot of classical concerts get used to them pretty quickly. This particular one acknowledges the important role of the concertmaster in the direction of the orchestra. At the end of a piece, the conductor will probably shake his or her hand again as well as ask important soloists to stand. I have even seen, after an important premiere, the conductor shake the hand of every single person in the orchestra. It is a civilized courtesy.Conductors shaking hands with the ConcertmasterThe concertmaster is a vital part of any orchestra, but the tradition of the conductor shaking their hand has become an expectation, rather than an earnest greeting or show of respect.
Standing ovations should be a rare and special gesture reserved only for most astonishing performances. Otherwise, the gesture becomes meaningless and cheapens the act.I have left out a few items either because they were trivial or I agreed with them. But this one, while I do agree with it, is not trivial. There is an unfortunate tendency to give standing ovations to performances that don't really deserve them. Yes, it should be more special than it is. I often suspect that most standing ovations today are the audience complimenting themselves on their excellent taste, plus getting ready for a quick escape.
The tradition of ghettoising contemporary music at the beginning of a program, regardless of how it balances hurts the piece and the overall concert.There is a semi-good point here. There is a tendency for programming to lapse into a dreary sameness. Virtually every string quartet concert I have seen in recent years has followed exactly the same format: something 18th century by Haydn or Mozart (or earlier Beethoven), something contemporary and, in the second half, a big Romantic work. Every single concert! Sorry to say that, unless that big Romantic work was either by Schubert or later Beethoven, I tend to leave at intermission.
But I suspect that, at this point, Mr. Vincent was simply running out of ideas. Here let me add a few:
- Make every classical concert into a real event that regular folks can appreciate: big video screens, dancers, sur titles, fireworks, Smellovision!
- Sell t-shirts!
- More diversity!
- Sexier concert garb!
You get the idea. Like Richard Taruskin says, the most important defense classical music needs is against some of its own devotees. Classical music is always endangered, always an extreme minority taste, always struggling. The surest way to kill it off entirely is to turn it into some sub-species of popular music. Now I am not actually suggesting that we hunt down and kill André Rieu, not at all. But perhaps a restraining order? Just kidding! Everyone should enjoy exactly what they enjoy and more power to them. Even people who actually like classical music for what it is and not for what it is not.
Our envoi, Leonard Bernstein, the New York Philharmonic in Tokyo in 1979. Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5: